This article was published in The Catholic Missourian in 2017:
“When strange things happen, know that I am there.”
The playful note was addressed to the people of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Jonesburg.
It was signed by someone claiming to be the spirit of St. Oliver Plunkett.
Similar notes started arriving shortly after the statue outside St. Patrick Church was restored about two decades ago.
The impressive image had been commissioned and installed by Monsignor Francis O’Duignan, a native of Ireland and longtime priest of the Jefferson City diocese, shortly after St. Oliver’s canonization in 1975.
Oliver Plunkett is not nearly as well known in this country as Patrick, his forebear in faith, but it’s likely they would have collaborated well and enjoyed each other’s company.
Both served as bishop of Armagh, about 1,200 years apart.
A 17th-century priest, teacher, archbishop and martyr, Oliver Plunkett accepted exile, persecution and accusations of treason.
He willingly embraced martyrdom for the faith and for the people entrusted to his spiritual care.
By the mid-1990s, St. Oliver’s statue in Jonesburg was weather-beaten and in need of restoration.
Kristin Roth, who served for years as pastoral administrator at St. Patrick, asked if anyone knew for sure who the statue represented.
“Most of the parish thought it was St. Patrick. Others said it was Oliver Plunkett,” recalled Ms. Roth, who now lives and works in northeastern Missouri.
Some remembered that at one time, the Jonesburg parish had an organization called the St. Oliver Plunkett Society.
“But no one could remember what its purpose was,” Ms. Roth recalled.
So the parish council voted to have the statue repainted with a green mitre and crosier, and to add a shamrock and a sinister looking snake, apparently about to be banished from the island.
It’s amazing how a little emerald paint can identify the great Apostle of Ireland faster than the words “I am Patrick.”
The transformation was complete and unmistakable.
A man of letters
All in Jonesburg seemed content with the statue’s fresh new look.
But notes from St. Oliver kept showing up in odd places.
“You could open a Missalette and there was a note there from the ghost of Oliver Plunkett,” said Ms. Roth. “You could take a lid off a pot in the kitchen and there was a note. In the pew rack at church, one would find a disgruntled note from Oliver Plunkett.”
The tongue-in-cheek messages varied some, but each expressed disappointment from a seemingly forgotten saint.
“No offense to the great St. Patrick, who is worthy of great admiration,” one note read, “but how sad to have you put me out of your mind after I watched over all of you in rain and snow and all kinds of weather.”
Pluck of the Irish
Ms. Roth and members of the parish council started getting annoyed with the letters.
“We tried to figure out who was doing this,” she said. “I tried to get the word out that if this was meant to be a joke, it wasn’t funny anymore.”
The notes kept coming for several years until the summer of 2002.
That also happened to be when Father Jerry Kaimann was transferred from Montgomery City and Jonesburg to St. Bonaventure parish in Marceline.
“Oliver Plunkett must have gotten over his disappointment over being put out of mind,” Fr. Kaimann later surmised. “From what I hear, everything is now quiet, and St. Patrick reigns graciously over the parish.”
Ms. Roth later accepted the position of pastoral administrator of three Catholic parishes in Clark County, near the Iowa border.
One of them is named for St. Patrick and has an impressive collection of stained-glass windows rendered in Celtic-style in Ireland.
Among the depicted saints is Oliver Plunkett.
“I just can’t get away from him,” she exclaimed with a sigh and a laugh.
On St. Patrick’s Day a couple of years ago, Precious Blood Sister Loretta Sigler, who succeeded Ms. Roth as pastoral administrator in Jonesburg, found a card tucked under the door to the church.
It read: “As you celebrate your patronal feast, remember me, too. All is forgiven. Patrick and I pray for you, as do the good Fathers O’Duignan and Flood. Follow our Good Lord’s lead and love each other, pray for one another and love truth more than life! In Christ, Oliver Plunket.”